A dozen suggestions for holiday reading
Something about coming to the end of the year makes otherwise normal people want to draw up lots of lists. “Best of” lists, “Top 10” lists, “Most Awful” lists. Here’s my own “Top 12 Books for the Holidays.” Why 12? Because 10 seemed so … pedestrian. Besides, there are 12 days of Christmas. And good things always seem to come by the dozen. Like eggs. And cookies. And books.
First, a disclaimer. The following list is composed of books that spark warm memories and good feelings for me. They may not have that effect on you or on the person you buy one of these books for. There are no guarantees. All I can tell you is that these items hold meaning for me, and maybe they will for you, too. They’re quality books. And, with only two exceptions, they’re all available at your local, friendly community college library. So come on in and browse before you buy.
1. “Country Wisdom & Know-How,” by the editors of Storey Publishing’s Country Wisdom Boards. The only book I know that tells you how to skin an animal, make homemade milk soap and build a smokehouse, all in one text. Covers more than 8,000 skills, crafts and household fix-it projects, complete with illustrations.
2. “A Christmas Memory,” by Truman Capote. The one Christmas story that gets the lump going in my throat. It’s deeply affecting, beautifully written and dripping with down-home nostalgia.
3. “Moosewood Cookbook,” by Mollie Katzen. If you’re looking for a healthier yet tastier New Year, the Moosewood is it. There’s enough here for more than an entire year’s worth of recipes, all nutritious, vegetarian and delicious.
4. “Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales,” by Hans Christian Andersen. Andersen’s stories are perfect for wintry atmosphere. Try “The Snow Queen” as a warm-up. After “The Fir Tree,” you’ll never feel right chopping down a Christmas tree again. For a real kick in the pants, try “The Little Match Girl” – proof the holidays are pure hell for some.
5. A tie: “Mere Anarchy,” by Woody Allen, and “Yiddish Policemen’s Union,” by Michael Chabon. Perfectly appropriate and wonderful books for your Jewish friends (though their appeal is much broader than that). Allen’s collection is drop-dead funny. Chabon is the real deal, and his just might be my favorite book of the year.
6. “Snow in America,” by Bernard Mergen. “Announced by all the trumpets of the sky, arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields, seems nowhere to alight: the whited air hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven.” That’s a little Ralph Waldo Emerson for you.
7. “Outwitting Bears,” by Gary Brown. Our bears had a rough year. Humans were largely to blame. What better Christmas gift for our furry pawed friends than to learn how to live, camp and hike around them without interrupting their natural flow?
8. “What to Eat,” by Marion Nestle. Three years ago, I spent Christmas dinner with Marion. We ate a lot of things that wouldn’t make anyone’s healthy list. I found her lively, extremely likable and full of common sense. And that’s exactly how her book reads. It’s about the typical American supermarket, loaded with heavily processed foods and misleading misinformation, and how to navigate wisely through it.
9. “About Alice,” by Calvin Trillin. I never had a meal with Calvin, but we did share an elevator and a conversation once. This book is Trillin’s love letter of sorts to his late wife. It’s adorable, moving and not at all sappy. It fills me with hope that a happy marriage is attainable.
10. “Roast Chicken and Other Stories,” by Simon Hopkinson. Another food-related book, but this one will change lives. It’s extremely well-written and truly useful. Hopkinson serves up several recipes for a number of commonly found food items. Nothing bizarre or rare.
11. A tie: “The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror,” and “Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal,” both by Christopher Moore. “The Stupidest Angel” will give you the Christmas creeps (complete with zombies), and “Biff” is outrageously funny without being offensive.
12. “A Collaboration with Nature,” by Andy Goldsworthy. A big, beautiful art book that emphasizes the palette of the natural world. In Goldsworthy’s hands, piles of rocks, shards of ice, strands of laurel leaves and twisted tree trunks become art. It’s the sort of art book that leaves you thinking, “Hey, I could do that!”
– Diane Lewis works in the library at Lake Tahoe Community College. Send your arguments, corrections and chocolate babka recipes to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.